Rudolph, Isaiah, and the Best Years of Our Lives

We stumbled and bounced into the post office, three of us at one time, bundled into hard to move winter coats, with a large pile of crisp white Christmas card envelopes in tow. When we enter small spaces, it can sometimes feel like quite the dramatic entrance. I never know who might trip, if someone will stop and stand still because something “scary” looms ahead inside the doorway, or if the smallest child will suddenly decide she doesn’t want to be held and simultaneously doesn’t want to stand on her own two feet. I negotiate how doors will be opened with a child in my arms, with a four year old who either believes she can handle the world on her own and needs to open even the heaviest doors alone or gets distracted by her imaginary friends, and with the kind attempts – or lack thereof – from strangers to politely help up with said doors. Sometimes the opening of doors and falling into rooms can be one of the trickiest parts of going places with children.

So, into the little post office we bounced. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer stamp posters were decorating the wall, to the delight of my daughter. “Rudolph!” she squealed. An older man attaching stamps to envelopes turned around and gave the girls a big smile. The two girls entertained themselves as I bought some (Rudolph) stamps. The man was the friendly sort, chatty but not overbearing, obviously happy at the sight of two little girls. I started placing stamps on envelopes, with a break in the action for both girls to send envelopes down the letter shoot before they darted under the counter where the man and I were working. He was still talking to them and then he looked up at me with a smile and said to me words I often suspect and don’t dare to voice. “These are the best days of your life, you know.” He said it cheerfully, with no regret, but only enthusiasm.   He told me he had three children, eleven grandchildren, and six great grandchildren. He told me raising his children was the most fun he had in his life. Everyone says time goes fast, but this statement was specific, pointed.

My birthday was this week. For some reason, there are certain years that stump us. The years that are in between the milestones make me pause more than the milestones. These sorts of years remind me that while things like birthdays and Christmastime return annually, but the years never recur again. There has been a bit of pause for me in the last few months. Watching my baby turn into a little girl in four short years and my second baby valiantly fight to keep up with her older sister is an everyday reminder of the overexposed speed that life travels. Suddenly, another birthday is here, one baby face is growing older, and another baby is running and talking. Someday I will be able to type with two hands because there will not be two girls wriggling on and over and around my lap as I write. Perhaps I am odd, but I can get caught up in what my childhood expectations of my life were and in anxiety about what the future may bring. Instead, I am better off realizing that NOW is the life that I am living. The past has left and the future will be in God’s hands. I cannot live with regret about the past, frustration about the present, or anxiety about the future. I can learn from past mistakes, live fully now, and realize God will care for the future.

I’m trying to finish up some books I started awhile ago. In The Luggage of Life, Frank Boreham touches on Isaiah,

It is the intermediate stage that tests the mettle of the man. It is the long, fatiguing trudge out of sight of both starting-point and destination that puts the heaviest strain on heart and brain. That is precisely what Isaiah meant in the best known and most quoted of all his prophecies. He promises that, on the return from Babylon to Jerusalem, ‘they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint/ Israel is to be released at last from her long captivity. Imagine the departure from Babylon—its fond anticipations, its rapturous ecstasies, its delirious transports! Those first steps of the journey were not trying; they were more like flying. The delighted people walked with winged feet. And the last steps—with Jerusalem actually in sight, the pilgrims actually climbing the mountains that surrounded the holy and beautiful city—what rush of noble and tender emotions would expel and banish all thought of weariness! But Isaiah is thinking of the long, long tramp between —the drag across the desert, and the march all void of music. It is with this terrible test in mind that he utters his heartening promise: ‘They shall walk and not faint.’ They would fly, as on wings of eagles, out of Babylon at the beginning; they would run, forgetful of fatigue, into Jerusalem at the end; but they should walk and not faint. That is life’s crowning comfort. The very climax of divine grace is the grace that nerves us for the least romantic stage of the journey. Farewells and welcomes, departures and arrivals, have adjusting compensations peculiar to themselves; but it is the glory of the gospel that it has something to say to the lonely traveller on the dusty tract. Religion draws nearer when romance deserts. Grace holds on when the gilt wears off.

 (pp.72)

I always skimmed over the walking part of that verse. It seemed like that action had to be included to make the analogies complete, but was otherwise superfluous. But a good part of our life includes the walking, perhaps sometimes impatiently, perhaps sometimes wearily. The days spent doing whatever it is we do without seeing grandiose or world altering results are walking days. The phases when accomplishment seems elusive, but work is in process are walking days. We repeat many days over and over without feeling like they are different. We remember time in clusters of days, sometimes with outstanding moments glimmering like stars.

Whether they are the best days of our lives or the worst, they are our lives. I do not know if I am in the best stage of my life. I suspect I may be. There is certainly plenty of happiness and gratefulness surrounding me. I know that years can be hard and life can hold suffering. But the constant is that the God who holds us up when we run, soar, or walk is the God who never changes. He is the God who sent His Son to give us the only comfort and joy in life and death. We look at Advent with anticipation, at Christmas with joy, and through that lens we can see our whole lives. I am not sure that God carries the perspective that there are best days of our lives. We feel that on a human level. But He cares for us completely, at all times. He grants us the years to live, rescues our souls, bears us up as we move through this life. The only way we can run, soar, or walk is by His grace and providence. His is the love that never changes. He is the one that remains the same. And that, through the best years and soaring years, the low years and the walking days, is the great promise in which we find hope.IMG_0248.JPG

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Why Christmas Lights Matter

She kept saying that she was making things beautiful. This is the first year she has actually been able to really help. Only one ornament broke. She was so excited to be a part of what we were doing.  So now, the tree is up. And lit. December is here.  And we forge ahead, into the end of the year, as new moments and memories, still unrealized, wait to join our rituals. DSC_0273

Lights, warmth, company, food, laughter, presents, memories, hope and good wishes. These are the images that march through our minds when we think about Christmas – in our non-cynical moments.  These are the feelings we crave and hope for each year. And these are also why holiday seasons are hard when our memories are not all happy, when health has broken down, when loss is a gaping hole in our hearts, when our expectations are violated, leaving us sad and empty.

It’s fairly easy to remember Christmastime as a pleasant part of childhood. But as we age and life breaks on us like waves on the sand, it can be harder to conjure the feelings of hope and joy that are scrawled across cards and commercials. Conflicted feelings of happiness and anxiety, hope and fear fight and battle for the seat of honor at our table.

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But why, despite loss, life, and harsh reality’s glaring presence, are we still drawn to the Christmas season?

Because in the darkest season on Earth, light came. Because in our sickness,  a physician who heals wholly, completely, came. Because on the coldest night, there is warmth for the heart. In the middle of isolation, there is acceptance. In our loneliness, we are made the friends of the eternal God.

Because in our losses, a Father suffers with us, because He too, once gave and lost  – so that we could be His children. Because with our isolation, Christ remembers that a baby born in a manger was left alone, to die under our sin, so that we would be free from the darkness, the cold, the emptiness, the violated expectations in our lives.

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The expectation of future joy and peace replace the holes left by the need of grace and redemption.  And, while some see the activity of the Christmas season as superfluous, we must see it as the mirror of a beautiful redemption.

We make beauty around us because our Creator is beauty and His creation cannot resist following His lead.  In our deepest, farthest, almost unknown places of our souls, we crave everything that Christmas brings. We crave purpose and meaning and belonging. Those are gifts found only through Christ.

We watch the brilliant Christmas lights as they shine into the dark wintery nights.  We crave light.  We crave beautiful light that will open our hearts and make us know what we want and who we are meant to be.  We long for our Creator and Father, our Redeemer.

DSC_0284As the trees go up and the decorations multiply and the music cheerfully lilts, find the beauty of Christ in the shimmering and the sparkling.  Watch the lights shine across miles of shops and homes and landscapes and take comfort that no matter what memories of Christmas surround you and no matter what dread encloses you, there is peace from the Prince, promised and complete, propelling us through the cold darkness, to a warm Spring, to resurrection power and glory.

 

 

Uncharted Monotony

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Four years ago last week, we brought a little five pound, five week old baby home to live with us.  I remember being terrified the entire first 24 hours she was home. My husband and I took turns sitting up with her overnight that first night.  I think we stayed up partially because she was restless and fussy, but partially because we were afraid to fall asleep. It seems funny now, it wasn’t like she was going to raid the refrigerator or draw on the wall or use scissors unsupervised (all activities she has since indulged in).  But there was this incredibly fragile human in our house now and all the territory was uncharted and a bit scary.

Last week, I handed this same little girl a five dollar bill, a handwritten note requesting a loaf of bread, gave her instructions to wait in line and be polite, and sent her into a bakery by herself.  At first, she wondered out loud who would open the door for her.  I reminded her she usually opens the door for me.  Then, she placated herself with the idea that some Good Samaritan would smile upon her and kindly open the door.  And with that happy thought, off she ran.  She returned a few minutes later with a loaf of bread tucked under her arm, change in her pocket, and a humungous smile on her face. The note returned with her, carrying  a message back that she had been very polite.

Everyone tells me that time goes so fast. I don’t need their reminders, but I don’t mind them either.  Days and weeks and years repeat over and over. These are probably some of the happiest days of my life, I tell myself.  It is sad to me that these happy days are so short, but I am grateful for their presence at all.  Some days the overwhelming feeling that I carried that first night, an undercurrent of excitement and anxiety about the future, making me catch my breath, comes back.  I watch as the days back away off of the calendar. I watch as the children grow taller, older, and more independent. I wonder what they will be like when they are grown. But then I stop myself before that thought is fully formed.  I want each day to be here, now, not the future.  Never before have I wanted to future to stall more than now.  Nor do I wish to dream about the future I am not promised.  It is easy to dream as a child.  It is with greater caution that an adult dreams.

Each month and year repeats. Each one sends us deeper  into uncharted territory as parents, as our children grow, as children of God. We live the same months over and over again each year, marking off the same holidays, rituals, and every days.  But each day is unique and different. As a Creator and Father, God has made each story and path and day new.  We exist in His image, but individually created for unique purposes.  I love how Chesterton puts it in Orthodoxy. “But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. ”   Days repeat themselves. The Cross remains the same. The Heavenly Father never changes. But, His creativity and that of His world is boundless, His grace is unending, every day.

My children grow, as children have since time began.  It is how a life lives.  Each life is different.  Each stage is unknown.  Each path is uncertain.  But what is certain is the promise that God’s mercies are new each morning.  That He renews His mercies daily.  While our salvation is fixed and firm, it is worked out continually.  I love this tension that occurs, most visibly paralleled, when one loves a child.  They are born at a fixed point in time.  The love we have for them continues on and renews over and over.

Time goes fast and we “do it again” every day.  The uncharted roads and paths are the chances for God to prove His faithful care to us.  He gives us new stages that burrow into the repeated months.  And just like the days when we send our children into unfamiliar territory and watch over them carefully and with pride, so He does the same for us.

The days bring new challenges and twists.  But there is a constant Father who delights in watching His children grow and thrive, who sits up at night to make sure their needs are met.  That is a fixed joy that does not change. 

If I Have to Repeat Myself

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“Stop it, get down, take that out of your mouth, don’t blow bubbles with your milk, stop climbing on that, take the string off of your neck, stand still, sit still, talk quietly, don’t stare, please don’t eat dirt, don’t pick up the baby…”

“Yes, of course you can have a snack, yes, I am getting your snack, honey I am making your lunch right now, I promised we would have lunch, get out of the refrigerator, yes, here is your lunch now….”

“Sweetie, there are no monsters in our house. No, none. The shadows don’t have to scare you, its just light reflecting in a funny way. There are not spiders in the bed, I promise. No, no monsters outside either. Yes, of course you are safe. You never have to be afraid with Mommy and Daddy with you.”

Do you ever feel like you repeat the same conversations about 6,237 times a day, at least seven days a week? I do. Some days, I am so tired if repeating myself that I am at a loss for words. Nothing comes out, and I’m sure I have glazed over eyes as I stare blankly at the hazy figure that is my child.

I read a piece of child development advice that noted how preschoolers need instructions repeated often. This is because they are constantly learning. Once they have learned a new piece of information, they have to figure out if the old rules apply to this newly acquired knowledge. My daughter has this need for repetition. We tell her no, yes, not now, later over and over. Night after night, we discuss monsters and shadows. I try to remember how the context of her world is so new and unknown. And as soon as I have that thought, I remember how often I forget or disregard God’s instructions and promises.

When I was young, I observed to my mom that the Israelites in the Old Testament must not have been that smart or spiritually astute because they had to learn the same lessons frequently. Naturally I later realized they were living without myriads of examples and a completed Bible. And the longer I live, the more I can identify with the doubts and disobedience of the Israelites, while having myriad examples and the Bible.

Repeatedly, God gives us good promises and instructions that help us recognize those promises. Be anxious for nothing, but make your requests to God with thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6). Do not be anxious about your life, God will provide what you need (Matthew 6:25). Those who trust in the Lord cannot be moved (Psalm 125:1). Fear not, I have redeemed you, you are mine (Isaiah 43:1). There is no more condemnation (Romans 8:1). The same promises and instructions are given from the beginning of time to the end of the Bible.

Why did God give us the command to take part in Communion?   I Corinthians 11:24     “ And when He had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’”   Because He knows we are forgetful children. And like Israel had celebrations multiple times a year to remember God’s care, we have multiple times to remember His salvation and goodness. Because every time something new and scary enters our periphery, we tend to forget His promises. We take a new job, we move to a new country, we have a new baby, we suffer loss, we undergo change, and stress and we have to learn again that God’s unchanging Word always applies. A new day dawns and my child figures out how to peel a banana and suddenly she doesn’t think I need to fix her meals for her any longer. But I am still there to buy bananas and make sure she doesn’t fall off the chair reaching them. Our lives may change, but God’s salvation, promises, and sustaining care does not.

We take Communion to remember the Cross. We attend church remember God’s grace in saving us. We read His word to refresh our wonder in His redemption plan. We grow and learn, stumble and fall, question and weep, but God will always be there to repeat His love, to remind us of His promises, to uphold His saving care for us.   The blessing of repeating ourselves to little ones is that in doing so, we have a tangible reminder that God does the same thing for us patiently and lovingly.

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(This post was originally found at Domestic Kingdom. Since it was posted, Gloria Furman has moved her writing home to
gloriafurman.com)

Good From Above

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Day light savings time, ensuing sleep deprivation, and the full fury of age four hit all at one time. There were lots of tears. There were multitudinous moments of whining, full blown freaking out, and complete and utter meltdowns from mother and child. These fun hours were embellished by a climbing, curious, and slightly mischievous, elfish toddler. Suddenly, the child who knew how to do everything for herself, by herself, an hour ago, had reverted into whole hearted helplessness and needed her mother to assist her with the very acts of inhalation and exhalation. The toddler, on the other hand, who last hour was a sweet cuddly baby, ready to be held and powdered and waited upon, was transformed into a thrashing and screaming monster of independence, full of insolent capabilities, who would turn and breath fire toward the hand that dared reach out with the slightest hint of helpfulness.

 

It was not a good week.

 

By the end of the week, I was convinced that my child would never learn to read, that she will never eat a vegetable, she may wear Depends to college (if by some miracle she learns her alphabet in order and manages to be accepted into an academic institution), and that my lack of patience was stacking up quite a large future therapy bill.

 

Then, thanks to the wonders of social media, news flashed across my phone screen that I really did not want to see. It did not affect me directly and there was no tragedy to my family. Social media undergoes much criticism, but regardless of our taste for it, we are immediately under the directives to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. So that day, I grieved for those who were grieving.

 

There are days when I think it is pure nonsense for me to prattle on about God being good as I watch my two beautiful children. It seems trite some days to write words about how He creates life and beauty in a perfect, ordained way, demonstrated by how He calls us to Himself, in His own family unit. Not because I doubt His goodness or because I am having a hard week, but exactly the opposite. Because my hard week paled in comparison to the anguish that some undergo. My children and I had a safe and reasonably happy day. My husband came home for dinner that night. We all spent an uneventful evening together. We kissed our babies good night and greeted them cheerily when they woke with the sunshine the next morning. Loss, and pain, and the unknown future live on far different floors from whining, and growing pains, and frantic motherhood. What do I know of suffering and hardship? (I know that I do not want to know more than I already do.)

 

When we hear bad news, our hearts break for those in pain. The oldest lie in history comes sauntering into the door. God doesn’t really want us to be happy, does He, or He wouldn’t allow bad things to happen to good people? Life shouldn’t be this hard. Circumstances should be much easier. What if suffering happens to you – what would you say about God then?  Of course these ideas are fanciful webs of torturous deceit entangling us in our own heads and impeding us from reciting the truth – that God is good – to ourselves.

 

There are times to rejoice. There are times to grieve. In the times of rejoicing, we store away the recognized blessings of God. In the times of grieving, we cling to the truth of our faith that God is good, because He has redeemed us, broken the curse of death, and given us life eternal. And in the times that are ordinary and uneventful, we rehearse to ourselves, and to those around us what we have learned in the days of clinging to the cross. We remember the works of God that are more than the sand in the sea – innumerable, unmeasureable.

 

On the days of plenty and the days of emptiness, God remains unchanged. On good days and bad, our desperate need remains, healed only by His forgiveness and adoption of us into His family.   Whether it is a time to rejoice or a time to grieve, every good and perfect gift is from our Father above. Every gift, and there are many, begins and ends with Jesus Christ. Because His work on the cross shadows over our every day, each gift has the outline of His perfection. While we struggle and ache now, the hope of realized redemption and future perfection through Christ is our hope. Because we are recipients of this promised grace, it can never be trite to say that God is good.

Wants and Wishes

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Most of us, whether we realize it or not, want to believe that God is good.  Being October, the month my oldest daughter was born, I find it impossible not to reflect on God’s goodness as a Father and Creator. The writing I have done here this month is part of that reflection.  So I was delighted to write today for Jen Pollock Michel’s series Found Wanting about my desire to believe that God was a good Father.

The series is a collection of stories that, to quote Jen, “…tell a part of the story that God is telling through us, even the beautiful and complicated story of being human and becoming holy.”  Read through the different contributors that are part of this project and see God’s hand at work in many lives. So enjoy my post, and the posts of others, as well as Jen’s beautiful writing on her site.

 

**I recently wrote about Jen’s book Teach Us To Want in a post here.  It is a book you will not want to miss reading.

 

 

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